White Belt Mentality: A Hammer and Nail Story

Whether you’re thinking about trying BJJ for the first time or a decade or more into your career, there are frustrations in the growth process that we all face more than once. You are certainly not alone regardless of where you are in your progression. For the new practitioner, there are several common trends I have noticed that I will outline below. 

  1. The BJJ Addiction: A few weeks to months into training I see a lot of new practitioners attending every single class and getting ‘bit by the BJJ bug’.  They’re addicted and training like a madman or woman. However, this phase tends to wear off pretty quickly in the grand scheme of things and leads to the next phase.
  1. The Frustration: Rolling is A LOT of fun. After all, how many other places do you get to simulate a fight where one person has to admit defeat or have a limb broken or lose consciousness? Yet there is a reality that is sitting in the back of your mind that you cannot ignore any longer; after attending EVERY.SINGLE.CLASS for the last 8 weeks you’re still chasing that elusive tap. You don’t feel like you’ve gotten any better and everyone in the room looks like a hammer and you are the nail. You go home bruised, battered, and feeling an ever-growing frustration for this new skill you are trying to master. Your joints hurt, your muscles hurt, and in your mind, you are not showing the progression that you believe you should be by now. 

This is your first obstacle in your training and one that you will see over, and over, and over again through the entirety of your career. This is a very common exit point for many new practitioners and something I struggled with early on in my career. You are not alone with those feelings and I can assure you that you have improved. This is a really good time though to assess a few things. 

  • What are you looking to achieve through BJJ? 

Maybe the first thing that came to your mind was, “to get my_____ Belt one day.” Okay, but then what? That is an external problem and places the achievement on an object. Think back to when you decided to try BJJ. Were you looking to get a new belt then before stepping foot on the mats? Probably not. If the goal is focused on an external problem you will not have longevity in this sport because putting your body through a lifetime of BJJ for a belt, or even just a good workout, is simply not worth it. There has to be more. Personally, I was experiencing a loss of community and feeling a bit of an identity crisis after separating from the military that led me to BJJ. The people I have met and had the opportunity to train within BJJ community has been a huge mental outlet and resource for me. There is something comforting knowing that I can walk into any gym in the world, not speak any of the home counties language and be able to communicate through BJJ. It’s one of the many things that keeps me coming back.

  • Consistency: 

This is probably the thing that I struggled with the most as a new practitioner once the initial addiction phase was over. It wasn’t that I didn’t love training but there is just no way around the difficulty of being new and constantly feeling like you’re getting beat up. During my White Belt and early Blue Belt, there were times I would show up to the gym and sit in the parking lot in my car and not walk in to the gym to train. It felt like a mental block. What I justified as “just taking a day off” turned into a week off, which turned into 2 weeks off, into a month off, and then it had been 3 months since I had trained. Things really compounded when I wanted to return knowing that I was out of practice and I was really going to get my ass handed to me when I came back. All these new White Belts that had joined were all going to be better than me. This is where checking the ego and the expectations at the door becomes very important. I put the needs of my ego above the learning process. As it turns out, when I finally returned to the mats everyone was happy to see me and nobody was putting checks on the wall every time I tapped and the same will be for you. 

Overall, solving the above problems became a complex problem solving exercise for me. I had set unrealistic expectations of myself and how I wanted to perform and did not live up to them (ego). As a result I beat myself up some nights after training and it was a sign of a larger issue at hand that BJJ definitely helped me through; introspection, self-forgiveness, and realistic goal setting. Below are some quick tips for optimal growth during the beginning of your training that I believe will help you get through the obstacles of being a White Belt and provide a solid mentality for growth as you progress:

Find the “why” behind your training

Spend some time in thought about this and find the bigger picture issues that led you to start training. Or maybe it was Joe Rogan that got you here. Whatever your motivation for taking your first steps into BJJ, reflect on it and when it becomes tough to show up to the gym, repeat this motivation out loud. 

What are the obstacles that are preventing you from training?

Things like work schedule, school schedule, injuries, frustration etc. Write these down and think of strategies to solve these problems. For instance, maybe your work schedule is keeping you off the mats and by the time you get home from work you are completely wiped out. Finding a gym with a morning class that you can attend is a great way to start the day and get your training in for the week. For each problem think about a potential solution and execute it. Then go train. 

Set realistic goals and be consistent

Jiu Jitsu is a marathon and not a sprint. Attending with consistency 3-4 times per week is much better than going 5-6 times/week for a month and then dropping off for several weeks. Set a sustainable and realistic number of sessions to get in per week and achieve that goal. This is how to make Jiu Jitsu a lifestyle and long-lasting habit.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your frustrations with your training partners

We have all experienced phases in the growth process in which we feel stagnant. Sometimes it goes beyond feeling stagnant, if feels like we are getting worse while everyone around us is in exponential growth phases. Not only is this frustrating but it has the ability to take all the fun out of training and potentially lead us to quitting. This is a great thing to talk to your teammates about because they too have experienced this and may have some strategies to help you break through it. 

Train with upper belts

This is probably one of the more intimidating things to do as a White Belt but one of the most beneficial. First, it allows you see what a more polished BJJ practitioner looks, trains, and feels like on the mats. Secondly, upper belts will give you more chances to work your game and the class curriculum so you can start making sense of all the things you are learning. Just like a language where first you learn the alphabet, then a word, a sentence, multiple sentences, and then an eventual conversation that grows with complexity. BJJ is no different. In order to have more complex conversations, you need to have someone to have those conversations with who is more interested in the conversation itself than winning the debate. 


Injuries are the largest limiting factors to training BJJ or maintaining a consistent training regimen and the most frustrating. It is crucial to get your injuries looked at by someone who is trained in these injuries and within the context of Jiu Jitsu. In the end there is a lot of truth to the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With a proper rehab and injury prevention regimen, you will watch your injury rate decrease and consistency on the mats increase. Dr. Wesley Reed is BJJ Brown Belt and Doctor of Physical therapy. You no longer have to feel alone with injuries and not know who to turn to. Turn to Ternion Physiotherapy for performance physical therapy for the Jiu Jitsu athlete.